An Evening With Mr Evison

Last Wednesday evening, Threadspider and I decamped to our local garden centre for the evening for a talk by Raymond Evison on Clematis for Today's Gardens. Naturally, we managed some light retail therapy beforehand, combined with frequent sightings of the great man as he was being given a guided tour of the garden centre at the time. It must have been quite strange for him as every nook and cranny of the garden centre was filled with posters, like the one above, advertising the talk.

He greeted everyone as they arrived, which was a really nice touch. It was even nicer when he recognised me from our previous encounters at Chelsea and the RHS Inner Temple Show. This time I was able to confide it was indeed this very spot where I'd purchased my sports of C. 'Josephine' (left) and C. 'Crystal Fountain' (below, right) :)

It was an inspiring talk. We were treated to a whistle stop tour of over 50 cultivars of all shapes and sizes, with ideas for using them in large borders; scrambling down banks and through trees; ones for small spaces; over arches; layered combinations; and lots of ideas for pots. I particularly liked the idea used at Wisley where 6ft twiggy birch branches are used as pot supports instead of the traditional obelisk. Of course there were lots of ideas for planting combinations. I found C. montana 'Broughton Star' with Copper Beech; C. 'Wisley' (purple) with a golden hop; and C. 'Josephine' with pale pink Astrantia most striking: the slide of this last combination drew an oooooh of approval from the audience.

We also had some tantilising insights into breeding Clematis. Around 2,500 crosses are made at the nursery in Guernsey each year which yields about 30,000 to 35,000 seeds. About a third of these germinate and then the 8-10 year process of growing on, selecting the most promising, trialling them in various conditions all over the world and finally launching a tiny few - just 3 cultivars at Chelsea this year - ensues. C. 'Fleuri' (see right) was my favourite from Chelsea.Add Image

As well as the breeding programme, chance also plays a major role: C. 'Josephine' is one such example, having been found on a market stall in London and mistreated for a number of years before the lady who bought it persuaded Raymond Evison it was a most worthy plant. C. 'Crystal Fountain' (see picture left) was found in Japan and C. 'Freckles' in Mallorca - the latter is named for his eldest daughter!

The breeding programme is looking for very free-flowering Clematis which bloom along most or all of the stem for as long a period as possible. A number of different flowering heights are being encouraged, though most recently the emphasis has been on selecting for shorter plants growing to a height of 4ft (e.g. C. 'Cezanne') for growing in pots or even shorter, around 1ft (e.g. C. 'Bijou') for ground cover. Of course by breeding plants to grow at various heights, it also means I now have the mouth watering prospect of layered Clematis combinations to think about!

All too soon the talk was over, though there was also plenty of time for questions at the end. I'm most relieved to find that my not pruning of my C. 'Freckles' - (see right) which I thought was the correct thing to do for evergreen Clematis - so that she's now a sprawling mess is redeemable and that her habit of flowering at various times of the year - like she is now - as well as her usual winter season is quite normal.

Top Tips from the evening:

  • Pre-soak plants for 20 minutes prior to planting
  • Choose deep colours or white flowers for bright, sunny positions; pale colours for shady or north facing situations
  • If planting in a pot, don't use plastic as this will be too hot for the roots in the summer. For larger Clematis 18 x 18" pots should be used; the newer short growing Clematis like C. 'Bijou' (growing to 12 inches) can be planted in a 12 x 12" pot. Make sure the pot used has very good drainage - if rainy, it should be raised up on pot feet
  • Grow bedding at the feet of potted Clematis to ensure the bottom of the plant is kept in cool conditions
  • A 4ft high pot-grown Clematis (in an 18 x 18" pot) should give a good display for at least 5 years before needing repotting
  • C. 'Petit Faucon' is particularly good for gardens with hot conditions - it withstood temperatures of 90 degrees (fahrenheit) in trials in South Carolina. C. Harlow Carr is another good one for heat - it's done well in California
  • September is a great time for planting in Britain as there are a couple of months for the plant to get well established before the cold weather starts
  • In the first spring after planting, the plant should be chopped down to 12", irrespective of pruning group. This encourages lots of shoot formation and bushy growth. Cultivars in the new compact 'Boulevard' range (bred for pots and grow to about 4 feet in height) can have the 'pony tail chop' treatment each year i.e. grab hold of all the stems at once and cut them off at 12"
  • Feed with tomato or rose feed
This must-have book's going on my list for that word-beginning-with-C-which-doesn't-exist-until-December ;)


  1. Now that sounds a memorable evening. I have been thinking about planting a clematis with my golden hop - will have to research 'Wisley'. A most informative and useful post VP especially the top tips. Thank you :)

  2. Thanks for this, VP. I love the clemmies, but never prune any of them for fear of messing up. And laziness. We do have a non climber, C. stans that I was wondering whether to prune or not. Sounds like the pony tail treatment will work for him. Love the birch branch tripod idea too. :-)

  3. Great post and great tips. I love Clematis and appreciate your passing on his points.

  4. Hi Anna - most memorable. I could written a whole lot more about it!

    Frances - we have plenty of birch trees around us, so it's definitely something I'll be trying out next year.

    Hermes - they went down well on Wednesday too, so I thought it would be a good idea to pass them on.

  5. Oh my, I wish we had a workshop like this here that I could attend. I would love to add more clematis to my garden, but the selections seem overwhelming. Knowing what would grow best in what spot would definitely help. And I can always use more information on proper pruning!

  6. I wish I could have been there to see the Clematis combinations. The tips you've gleaned indicate that I'm doing the right things with my Clematises, so I guess I'm entitled to get a few more! What do you have to do to get to trial one of his plants before it is released for sale? Does he need someone in Northern Illinois to trial one or two? I can make room for several. ;^)

  7. Mmm I am quite envious. I would have really enjoyed listening to a talk from Ray Evison I might even have come away with a few more ideas and names of clematis to add to my 50 I have already got although it is becoming increasingly difficult to find new places to plant and even running out of places for pots too.

  8. Brilliant post. I am a huge Evison fan and I'm very envious of you being able to spend an evening listening to him. But your report is excellent! Thank you so much.
    PS: the WV is hiansel. Do you think he's got a friend called grietel?

  9. Great tips - it's amazing how there's always room to squeeze another Clematis into a garden.

  10. Rose - I have a solution to your problem - just buy them all!

    Tatyana - you're welcome.

    MMD - not sure about where they're trialled, it would be great to do so wouldn't it? And I know you need no excuse to put some more Clematis in your garden!

    Joanne - after the talk Threadspider said to me 'I bet you're planning to squeeze a few more in somewhere after that'. And she's right, I'm contemplating trailling a whole host of the shorter ones over my garden walls!

    Victoria - I thought you'd enjoy the report and I so wished you and all the other Clematis fans could have been there. That's why I thought I had to try and do the talk some justice with my report :)

    HM - oh yes and I've got just the right spots for a few more coming up!


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